Infrared Saunas for Athletes
Infrared saunas can produce the same effects as a mild workout. The way the infrared light creates heat and causes our bodies to sweat has several proven health benefits, including normalizing blood pressure, fighting heart disease and aiding with chronic pain.
But what can it do for athletes and those who already train hard to gain the benefits of sweating and a good workout?
Firstly, unlike traditional saunas, which create steam by burning wood or more modern methods, infrared saunas create heat using the infrared light spectrum. There are three types of light, far-infrared, middlewave and near-infrared (coincidenatlly, our infrared sauna is the only one in Pittsburgh to utilize all three of these spectrums). Instead of heating a sauna up to somewhere around 185°F, which many people find uncomfortable, infrared saunas produce a more tolerable heat closer to 140°.
Heating your body at a lower temperature is thought to be more conducive to detoxification, circulation and reducing stress. Many athletes refer to this as hyperthermic conditioning, the process of building a tolerance to stress by means of acclimating yourself to heat.
Let’s explore the many ways this acclimation to heat and use of infrared saunas can help athletes.
Just like you push yourself a little further every time you’re at the gym to increase your endurance, so can you via an infrared sauna. Rising temperatures promote increased blood flow to your heart, muscles and in general. As you continue to use an infrared sauna, your body learns how to regulate its temperature more effectively, which results in a higher level of performance down the road during physical exertion.
The more proteins you have in your body, the better your muscles will be at repairing themselves and growing. When you’re in an infrared sauna, your body undergoes heat stress, and to combat this, releases heat shock proteins. The name can be deceiving, because heat shock proteins can be released for a variety of reasons (including being too cold), however their presence helps to break down free radicals, repairing damaged cells.
Further, as your workouts get more intense and your muscles begin to experience inflammation and tension, infrared saunas can help release that tension, even ease pain caused by it. Increased blood flow disperses oxygen to your muscles, giving them a better chance at recovery.
You’ve heard it ever since Coach Thompson told you that you need to both warm up and wind down in 6th grade gym class. Intense workouts at the gym and participating in sporting activities from football to skateboarding elevate your body’s adrenaline. This gets you “amped” and puts you in a better position to win the big game or go a little harder at the gym. When it’s over, though, your body doesn’t always know immediately to chill out and let the day go on in a more typical way. Too much adrenaline can stress you out, and doing this repeatedly over time can push stress levels into heart attack territory. Spending an hour or so in an infrared sauna has the double effect of allowing you to relax while also serving as an intermediary period where your body is still being “worked”, but to a lesser degree than during physical exercise, easing you back into non-workout mode.
At the end of the day, for those who are accustomed to playing hard on a regular basis and want to get the maximum benefits of their active life, participating in regular sauna sessions only increases your health and promotes recovery between workouts.
Up Next: Is Sweating Good for You?